On Monday, a jury awarded $2.4 million to the children of Nicholas Robertson, a man shot to death by L.A. County Sheriff's deputies in 2015.
The 28-year-old Robertson was walking on the streets of Lynwood, high on PCP, firing a gun in the air. According to his family's lawyer, when deputies arrived on the scene, the gun was empty, and Robertson wasn't pointing it anyone – although, as video footage of the incident shows, he never dropped his firearm.
“There were no reports that he had tried to shoot anyone,” said attorney Brian T. Dunn of the Cochran Firm, who represented Robertson's family during the suit. “He was talking to himself and walking around the street. He was pretty much in his own world. There was a tactical response that would have provided for containment. Instead, they decided to get out of their cars, and within 30 seconds, walked toward him and started shooting.”
Deputies fired 33 rounds at Robertson, who was walking by a gas station. He was struck by 17 of them. The last two, according to the plaintiff's experts, killed him. Eight of the other rounds went into the gas station. One bullet hit a car with a family inside of it.
“The manner in which they approached the situation, that they decide to use this level of force, exposed the entire community to risk,” said Dunn. “The threat wasn’t real, because by the police arrived, the gun was empty.”
The suit was brought on behalf of Robertson's wife and three children, who are ages 8 and 9 (two of them are twins), alleging the deputies violated Robertson's civil rights, that they were responsible for his wrongful death by using excessive force, and that they were negligent. The jury ruled that there was no excessive force, but that their tactics were improper and that the deputies were negligent. The jury initially awarded damages of $3.6 million, but because it ruled that the two deputies and Robertson himself were each one-third responsible, only two-thirds of damages were awarded to the plaintiffs. The jury also decided that the money should go to Robertson's three children, and not his wife.
In 2016, there were 89 people shot by police in L.A. County. Thirty-five of them were shot to death, 19 by LAPD and 16 by the Sheriff's Department.
On Wedensday, following the verdict, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors issued a statement, reading in part:
There is no excuse for what the LASD did to Nicholas or what they continue to do to our Black and Brown communities on a daily basis. This may have happened 2 years ago, but Jim McDonnell was sheriff, not Lee Baca. This was and continues to be common practice for the LASD. We can only assume the deputies that killed Nicholas are still employed making 6 figures at the department since history has shown that not even the sheriff can discipline deputies without being challenged by powerful unions. In fact, the sheriff can’t even give a list of 300 problematic deputies to prosecutors as a reference.
The verdict today is a small consolation to a family who had their loved one murdered and slandered by a department that claims to serve and protect. True justice won’t be possible until the list of the 300 problematic deputies is made available and the Civilian Oversight Commission has the power to subpoena information from the Sheriff’s Department immediately following an incident like this – so that deputies aren’t exempt from being held accountable. Maybe then deputies will finally stop killing our loved ones.
The Sheriff's Department did not respond to a request for comment.